Why I Won’t be Attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference

2011 Wine Blogger Conference in Charlottesville, VA

2011 Wine Blogger Conference in Charlottesville, VA

I wrote here in late July about the largely unfortunate experience that the North American Wine Bloggers Conference (WBC11) in Virginia this year turned out to be, from my perspective. That post generated quite a lot of traffic and discussion here, and on WineBerserkers, where it was reposted by a reader. One of the organizers, Allan Wright, responded with a few comments here that gave further insight into where he was coming from. A number of people, including many WBC11 attendees, supported my comments, however.

Tom Wark, who created the Wine Blog Awards that he passed on to the WBC organizers, wrote me a few days after my post to ask whether I’d be willing to be part of a group or committee to help advise the WBC organizers going forward, including meeting with them before WBC12 to discuss programming and the like. I said yes. In light of the organizers’ apparent willingness to hear from interested people about programming and other suggestions, I was definitely willing to give them another chance to organize an event that was aimed more at the interests and needs of wine bloggers. As events have transpired, however, Tom’s invitation to me to be part of the advisory committee was not honored by the WBC organizers, and I now have no intention of participating in WBC12 in any way.

After I received Tom’s invitation to serve on such a committee, and responded affirmatively, the weeks rolled by and I heard nothing more about the convening of the committee. In early September, I wrote Tom again to ask him what the plans were. Before I heard back from Tom, however, I received the email that conference organizer Allan Wright sent to all WBC11 attendees on September 9, notifying us that the organizers had “created a ‘2012 WBC Improvement Plan’ to make the conference next August in Oregon even better.” He further wrote, “We also have a six-person Blogger Advisory Board made up of industry and citizen wine bloggers who have reviewed and made suggestions on our Improvement Plan.” So despite my being asked, and agreeing, to serve on a committee to advise the organizers on improvements, the organizers now apparently have a committee of six unnamed individuals and I’m not on it.

I immediately wrote Tom Wark again that same day to find out what happened to my agreeing to serve on such a committee. Tom wrote right back, “I’m actually working on getting the folks at the WBC to include you in the advisory council. My thought is this (and I’ve communicated this to them): Despite your criticisms, it’s pretty clear that you are a committed blogger who would be interested in helping improve the conference and the Awards and that a committed person like this is important no matter what their view of past conferences…and perhaps because of their views of past conferences. Let me work on them more…I’d really like to see you involved.” I responded to Tom, “Thanks. I appreciate your efforts to get me included. If they don’t want to include me, that’s fine, but I’d like some clarity one way or the other.” Later that same day, Tom wrote me, “I’ve got a phone call in. I’ll let you know what I hear as soon as I hear it.”

Not having heard anything from Tom after that, I wrote him again, a few days later. I have received no response from Tom to that last message. So the upshot appears to be that although my lengthy blog post critiquing this year’s wine bloggers conference got some discussion going, and led the organizers to get to work on an “improvement plan,” I am not wanted as part of the group advising the organizers on how to improve the conference, even though I was invited to be part of that committee on their behalf.

My plate is already more than full enough both with work and the wine writing I love, so not having to serve on such a committee is certainly no hardship for me. I am fascinated, though, by the “process” involved, if you can call it that. I also wanted to make it clear as soon as possible to everyone who might have been following this topic that I am in no way involved in helping to advise the conference organizers for next year, and don’t plan to be attending or otherwise participating in any way. I am, on the other hand, looking forward both to the Wine Writers’ Symposium in Napa next year, and the European Wine Bloggers Conference in 2012, as these two events have a track record of being much better organized, with a lot more topics of interest to wine writers and bloggers than the North American Wine Bloggers Conference. I think the major problem with the latter is that it is organized by people who have no background or particular interest in wine. I also learned an additional fact in the past week that further confirms the thesis in my July blog post that the organizers of the North American WBC were out to generate all the income they could from potential sponsors, and were very little interested in providing content relevant to those of us who write about wine.

Christopher Watkins of Ridge shared with me this past week that he’d had the idea of providing a vertical of Ridge wines for WBC11. I’m sure virtually everyone who reads this board is familiar with Ridge, an iconic California winery, and their wonderfully ageworthy Monte Bello Bordeaux blend and Zins. Christopher wrote Allan with this offer, which would have been at no cost to the conference, and which would have provided some extraordinary wines for attendees to taste (certainly outdoing virtually anything that WBC11’s sponsors tasted us on). Allan’s response was that they’d be happy to include the Ridge wines in the tasting if Ridge paid the $10,000 fee required of sponsors.

Had Allan had any idea what Ridge and the Monte Bello were, one would think he would have jumped at this chance to provide this kind of tasting to conference attendees, many of whom have probably never had a chance to sample Ridge’s great wines. But Allan simply saw the offer as another winery wanting to show their wares and as a potential source of another $10K fee. So instead, WBC11 attendees got multiple box wines and all the Michigan and Maryland wines we could stomach.

So thanks, Allan, for not honoring Tom Wark’s invitation to me to serve on the committee to advise you on WBC12. What a blessing! I doubted from the way WBC11 was organized, and from the comments you wrote on my blog showing your total lack of understanding of what “welcoming” meant, that you and I would see eye-to-eye on what would make for a valuable conference for wine bloggers. The fact that you saw Ridge’s generous offer of a vertical tasting as simply another opportunity to extort money from a wine producer is yet another confirmation that your vendor fest-style “conference” is not for me.

And readers, you can just imagine what I think about “Wine Blog Awards” run by this same team (including another totally anonymous advisory committee).

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3 Responses to Why I Won’t be Attending the 2012 Wine Bloggers Conference

  1. G.E. Guy says:

    If the organizers let a Ridge vertical slip away, that’s a huge failing on their part. I’ve already said that I felt wbc was a little content light. That said, your comment about MD and MI wine felt like someone kicking the dog on the way out the door. I get it, you don’t believe there’s wine in the Other 46, but come on.

    • Richard Jennings says:

      I do believe there’s wine in the Other 46, and sometimes good wine, and I am very happy to write about good examples when I taste them. i thought I wrote a very fair and expansive report on the Virginia wines I tasted at the event, for which I received a number of appreciative response from Virginia producers. I’ve also written here about great wines from Texas. In my comment about what was poured at the event, I was merely referring to the “pay to play” character of WBC11, not trying to trash wines from the Other 46.
      warm regards,

  2. Louis says:

    Hey there Richard,

    We met a few months back at a Ridge tasting…

    Anyway, sorry to hear about your bad experience at the WBC…I’ve yet to go myself so can’t really comment.

    However…I have been to an EWBC, the one in Portugal. At the time I was very much a newbie in the wine blogosphere and went on the persuasion of my girlfriend to meet some other bloggers.
    Bloggers are an interesting breed, what I noticed most are those who tend to be extrovert on the likes of Twitter and FB are very much introvert when meeting face to face.

    That said, having only personally knowing one person at the event, and him being an organizer, I was going to have to be on a charm offensive to meet anyone at all….

    That said at the end of it all I came away meeting, knowing and still friends with, loads (LOADS!!!) of Euro bloggers (a couple of Americans too)….where I’m getting at with all this drivel is perhaps save up for a bit longer and go yonder across the pond…I am sure they will accept you for all your honesty.

    All the best and speak soon,

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